24 October 2010

Waning Moon, Morning Darkness

Each month the Moon makes a 29 1/2 day journey around the Earth, bringing different faces of the Moon to light, making beautiful patterns with the surrounding stars and planets, and shining light into the evening, midnight or morning skies. Right now, the Moon is waning, getting smaller each night as it passes through gibbous phases while moving from Full Moon to Last Quarter, lining up with bright celestial objects such as the Pleiades and Taurus. During the gibbous phases, the orientation of the Moon is quite different from what we normally expect in the evening skies.

The illustration shows the changing orientation of the Moon just after sunset in the waxing phases, as the Moon grows from New to Full. This view is for Northern Hemisphere viewers. But after the Full Moon, the orientation reverses and is best measured in the sunrise sky. So the view you can see right now is of a Moon curved not toward the east as normally seen in the evening sky, but rather curved toward the west in the morning sky. It's refreshing to see this time of year while it is so dark in the morning, and it provides a chance to see things in a different light. Eye-opening.

Image courtesy of University of Virginia.

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